Isolation, Physical Distancing and Next Steps Regarding Homelessness: A scan of 12 Canadian cities

In Canada’s major cities, homelessness officials have partnered with health officials and others to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic—arguably this sector’s greatest challenge since the Great Depression. Typically, local officials have done so by creating more physical distancing at existing shelters, opening new facilities, and creating facilities for both isolation and quarantine. Most cities have continued to move persons directly from emergency shelters into permanent housing. Networks of cooperation have generally improved during this crisis; this is especially true with health officials. It has been common, however, for local homelessness officials to express frustration with officials in nearby correctional facilities for discharging inmates without housing plans and without reaching out to homelessness officials to coordinate a transition into emergency shelter. Across Canada, a surprisingly large number of newly- created spaces for the homeless are staying open or re-locating—put differently, the new physical distancing arrangements put in place during the pandemic appear to be having a remarkable amount of staying power. However, the state of this ‘new normal’ will vary by city—e.g., most emergency shelters in Calgary and Edmonton do not expect to be able to comply with a two-metre requirement. While the current situation varies across Canada, the following challenges remain in the sector as a whole: outdoor sleeping; shared bathrooms and other common areas (and the additional costs of cleaning associated with these areas), and increased homelessness resulting from the economic downturn. This report recommends that Canada’s federalgovernment permanently enhance funding support for both Reaching Home and the Canada Housing Benefit.

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